UPDATE: Why I've reversed my opinion on feeding raw meat to dogs.
I will leave this article up here for archival purposes.
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- Evidence Update-Review of Risks and Benefits of Raw Meat Diets for Dogs and Cats | The SkeptVet
The practice of feeding dogs and cats raw food, whether it is a preformed commercial product or butchered cuts of meat and vegetables prepared by the owner, is rising in popularity but is still controversial with many veterinarians and pet owners.
Food and nutrition is one of the most fundamental aspects of animal husbandry and is essential for longevity, prevention of illness, and may possess the ability to even cure ailments by strengthening the immune system and maintaining the vitality of bodily functions.
We constantly make jokes about our companions craving a nice big juicy steak or raw fish, but for some reason, some don't see the need to feed pets natural, whole foods. The logic behind raw feeding is simple —dogs evolved from wolves, and wolves, just like all other animals including humans, are designed to consume food in its whole form.
It is true, however, that dogs are not wolves, and are closer to omnivores than their wild counterparts. I find one thing inarguable however; dogs have not evolved to eat commercially processed food pellets.
- Free-Range and Humane Pet Food Options
There is now a demand for more ethical and sustainable agriculture, and pet foods are among the products that you should consider upgrading to promote healthier pets and humane treatment of livestock. There are a few commercially available choices to
The consumption of processed food has even been shown to be detrimental to humans who have also not evolved to consume it, and that issue has been given less attention than the naturally occurring nutritional scapegoats that are animal fats and foods with high levels of cholesterol.
Not everything that is ‘natural’ is automatically good, but some elements of food processing such as heating and rendering alters the essential components of food at a chemical level, including imperative enzymes and proteins.
These default cooking techniques clearly exist for the convenience of people and are economically feasible, but they are not for the benefit of health. Humans and animals may seem to tolerate processed foods, but it is still essentially an experiment and may contribute to problems down the road.
Why are veterinarians hesitant with raw?
To most proponents of raw feeding, the diet seems obvious and logical. However, newcomers to the diet may be surprised when they mention to their pet’s doctor that they are pursuing this ‘radical’ change. Many vets do not recommend it, and may even discourage their clients from feeding this diet. Many vets also recommend not only kibble, but brands such as Science Diet, Beneful, and Eukanuba, which are known among many pet nutrition-focused circles to have questionable filler ingredients such as corn and low quality by-products. This is even more concerning now that in terms of prepared diets, there are much healthier alternatives available.
In many cases, these brands of pet foods sponsor vet schools and even have a heavy influence on what is taught in the classroom. It's a good guess that these classes do not teach or recommend raw feeding which is of no economical gain to these companies.
While I find the lack of focus on nutrition with many vets disappointing, there are more reasonable reasons that vets are hesitant to support or recommend raw diets. Feeding raw requires research and is more involved than filling your pet's dish with ground beef twice a day.
Commitment to this diet requires that the owner become educated on what, how much, and how often to feed certain food types so that the diet remains balanced. For one example, when it comes to meats, all parts of the animal do not have the same nutritional content. Feeding mostly muscle meat can cause vitamin deficiencies in pets and could be very harmful.
Most dry kibble brands are more likely to be 'balanced', and is a safe route for vets to take when suggesting foods.
Many vets also worry about the potential for animals consuming raw meats to be negatively affected by bacterial contamination, however just like their wild ancestors, dogs tend to have sufficient immune systems to withstand potential damage. Animals that have compromised immune systems may be a bigger concern.
How to balance meat portions
Bone chewing has helped clean my dog's teeth
Enrichment Value of Raw
I believe that not much thought is given to a dog’s psychological needs outside from nutrition. Pets are living, thinking animals like us, not throbbing cells in a petri dish with simplistic needs for nutrition no matter what the form. Dogs enjoy foods with different textures and flavors as one would expect from an animal evolved to consume whole prey.
Dogs and cats love to pull, gnaw, chew, crunch, and rip apart whole prey, as this provides essential enrichment. Kibble offers one texture, one flavor, and absolutely no variety. Raw feeding done correctly should be varied, and can include different types of animal parts, vegetables, eggs, bones, and even additional foods like cottage cheese and sweet potato.
Compare that to dry uniform pellets with questionable composition, and maybe some canned wet food added occasionally. It simply doesn’t compare. When you consider this, it's actually amazing that dogs can subsist on kibble as their owners chomp away on 'human food' that leeches enticing smells from above. It is likely that many dogs 'boycott' their food for this reason, and are incorrectly assumed to not be hungry. Some animals, such as chameleons in captivity, will starve themselves to death if not offered variety, and it is simple luck for pet food companies that dogs and cats do not.
Commercial, Balanced Raw Foods
If you are not confident with your ability to balance your pet's meals, there are many wonderful frozen and freeze-dried raw foods available. Here is a partial list of prepared foods with high quality ingredients.
- Stella and Chewy's
- Primal Pet Foods
- Nature's Variety Instinct Frozen Foods
- The Honest Kitchen
A good book on raw feeding is a good way to avoid mishaps and confusion
Raw bones also carry out the extremely important function of cleaning teeth, unlike kibble, as it is so often falsely claimed. Kibble cleans teeth like cereal cleans teeth for people. I certainly wish that commercial products could alleviate my dog's bad breath, but it never did.
For years, out of all my attempts to clean my dog’s teeth with brushing and manual debridement with scaling tools, raw bones resulted in an obviously superior cleaning job. Dogs with significant tater buildup may need dentistry annually that requires potentially dangerous anesthesia. It is a massive benefit to avoid this risk for such a simple issue.
Fillers in Pet Food
Even high quality kibble contains cheap binding agents that are usually grains or starches (these ingredients also replace expensive meat-based ingredients to make the protein percentage higher). These fillers may be corn, tapioca, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, wheat, grain, barley, or oatmeal. Some are better than others.
Unfortunately, and even with food produced for humans, dealers will try to cut corners as much as possible for economic reasons and 'play with wording' to make sales. Researching dog food brands and finding the truth about the ingredients utilized can be difficult. Grain and starch ingredients may contribute to weight gain and the formation of tumors in older pets.
While it could be a challenge to meet a dog's nutritional requirements, mistakes can always be amended. This is why variety for most pets is extremely important. Feeding a varied diet with nutrients from many sources decreases the chance that a nutritional demand isn't being satisfied. Human nutrition is also complicated, but would you feed yourself a 'perfectly balanced' pelleted human food?
Raw food has many other benefits, such as taking the guesswork out of the quality of ingredients used in the food (if you prepare it yourself), as well as the quantity or percentage of the ingredients used. Raw foods have higher moisture content which can be life supporting when pet's become older.
Should Everyone Feed Raw?
It is understandable that this diet won't fit into everyone's lifestyle or desire. Unfortunately, our society is very much used to feeding kibble-type foods to domesticated pets. When animals such as exotic pets are kept, it seems more sensible to people to feed these animals a natural, species-specific diet, yet that logic hasn't fully made it to many owners of dogs and cats.
Kibble can still be supplemented with bones occasionally to aid in teeth cleaning (after acclimating a dog to it, as dogs raised eating kibble tend to try to swallow whole pieces), and mixed with meats as well. Owners with concerns about not meeting the nutritional needs of pets without kibble can use kibble to supplement any diet.
There are many commercial products available that offer some raw nutrition in frozen or freeze dried forms that can also be added with kibble or used as the bulk of the diet. Dogs and cats tend to appreciate the added wetness (with cats, wet food may aid in warding off kidney problems) and tastes to their routine feeding if the owner cannot feed only raw.
The diet of your pet doesn't need to stop at a vet's opinion recommendation, and it's perfectly OK to ignore a vet if you don't sense that they are properly informed on nutrition.
Dee on May 16, 2016:
Will my puppy who is five months old and has only first half of her shots get worms from eating cooked chicken table scraps.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on September 24, 2015:
Hi aliosh. I don't support raw for dogs anymore. You need numerous peer-reviewed articles to back up your claims, and there aren't any. My dog gets senior kibble and dried veggies.
aliosh on September 24, 2015:
I believe in raw feeding and currently feed Prey Model Raw Diet. However, I disagree with a couple of items in your article (there is always something, right?). I don't think it's a good idea to mix raw food and kibble together. The two require a different PH in the gut in order to digest and common sense would tells me that if I mix two foods together that have different digestion rates and requirements then it could create digestive distress in my dog. Plus, by mixing dogs won't experience the full benefit of eating raw. Kibble is crap food and causes obesity and other health issues. Mixing it with raw isn't going to change it's properties or it's ill effects on a dog's overall health. I also believe dogs are strictly carnivores and do not need or digest veggies. I follow the 80/10/5/5 PMRD guidelines and feed a variety of raw items including my GSD's beloved green tripe.
Cool Rare Animals on October 23, 2014:
Nice hub, Thanks for sharing :)
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 24, 2013:
Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on May 24, 2013:
This is an informative article. You have done a lot of research pertaining to this subject. Raw food diets for animals are much healthier than the regularly processed diets of pet foods currently on the market.
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Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on January 31, 2013:
Thanks for commenting Bruce. These days some pet stores actually offer decent stuff, albeit it's a bit expensive. But the ingredients are varied, and are convenient to use if you don't have a bunch of stuff available. It also helps if you aren't a natural born nutritionist and aren't balancing you pet's foods carefully. Glad to hear you are doing more for your dog.
Barb Bruce on January 31, 2013:
Our dog very rarely eats anything from a pet store. We also feed Oscar raw meat. While it was difficult to not take the easy way and buy pet products that were readily at hand, Oscar deserves better. It costs more, but worth it!
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 09, 2012:
@JayeWisdom Thank you for your comments. I think that I've addressed this part of raw meat criticism. Now, I'm no anthropological expert, but from my loose understanding of human evolution, humans started cooking their food millions of years ago which allowed their brains to receive sufficient calories from food and that took part in human evolution. Wolves and cats on the other hand, in no part of their evolutionary history, cooked their food. This is why I'm baffled that you would compare your cat to yourself.
Your cat is an obligate carnivore that is built to live off of raw, whole prey. You are absolutely correct that raw meat consumption by humans is not a good idea. We are not one in the same with our pets. Bacterial contamination is not an impossibility with any food, but neither is it with commercial food. The major factor in the equation is the strength of your pet's immune system, and there are many healthy choices to assist that as well.
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on June 09, 2012:
What about the likelihood that raw meat contains e. coli, salmonella and/or parasites? Doesn't that concern you? If I would be afraid to eat it myself, I don't want to give it to my pet. There's no way I'd eat raw meat these days. Steak tartare has become a thing of the past for thinking people.
jandee from Liverpool.U.K on June 02, 2012:
Completely agree Melissa, it's in every walk of life ! kidding us with science. Doctors pushing their pills on everyone when a few good vitamins are all that are needed,or a new take on diet eh!
thanks for reply and look forward to your hub on the subject.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 01, 2012:
Very, very frustrating Jandee ;) For you see my father just got on board with the raw wagon only when we happened to get a vet that approved of it. This very overall seems more intelligent than others, and told us that my dog's dry food was irritating her stomach/intestines. I've also had vets disapprove of high quality pet foods or act like they've never heard of them. They often don't even entertain my concerns about the filler foods that most conventional foods contain. It's one thing for a vet to disagree, but when they literally don't even know what I'm talking about in the first place to effectively refute my proposals, they will be -ignored-. That's how it is, basically with everything. If I find a logical reason to not trust you I won't. Degrees and certificates do not phase me. I've got many hubs pending on this subject. Boggles the mind that such smart people can't use common sense. I'm a struggling Bio major and these premed people that are whizzes with exams are more than likely to go on to be medical professionals who sleep thought the common sense lesson.
jandee from Liverpool.U.K on June 01, 2012:
a good write. What do you think of the 'list' re. no fish?
Lots of vets and 'others' are too friendly with the pet food industry maybe ?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 31, 2012:
This article recently popped up in my email and is exactly as you described Shaddie: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/a...
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 31, 2012:
Yeah, Considering that this is true I honestly don't trust vets with nutrition information. If I don't like what I hear they will be ignored. Some people have an issue with me ignoring a person because they have a piece of paper, thinking I'm not allowed to us my brain and common sense. But as long as it works for me, and it has, I will continue.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 31, 2012:
Thanks tirelesstraveler. Yeah, not all dogs will like raw bones. It's best not to cook them as they can splinter more easily. But maybe they can be given whole fish with their food.
Shaddie from Washington state on May 31, 2012:
I have heard that the reason many vets do not back up the practice of feeding raw is because there is so much room for error, and vets, understandably, do not have much faith in the majority of their clients. These are the same clients who accidentally feed their dogs macadamia nuts, or think that giving their dog a bit of Tylenol is okay to do... I can't imagine a vet whom you have a good relationship with would turn someone away from their determined, educated ideas of a raw diet, but then again... As DrMark said, many vets are bought out by dog food companies.
Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 31, 2012:
Unfortunately one of the reasons those diets you mentioned are recommended is purely financial, those companies spend a lot of money with vets making sure their products are out front and not forgotten. I feed raw bones and also tracheas, which my dog loves and it is also beneficial to her health.
Thanks for the hub!
Judy Specht from California on May 30, 2012:
Very nice hub.
After having a dog who kept my floor clean, I now have two Border Collies that eat nothing. They don't like anything that isn't in their bowl. At three they like cooked beef bones, fish flavored dog food, tuna and eggs. They just sniff at raw bones. Can you believe that?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 29, 2012:
I feed pet food too, Shaddie. I don't really practice what I preach, but that doesn't make what I say wrong :) But her food gets mixed with free range meats daily, it's a bit hard for me to maintain because of the freezer space and defrosting is time consuming. I won't let my pets only get pellets though. Interesting story out that dog, at least he probably enjoyed getting a steak everyday, every dog's dream. But not healthy.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 28, 2012:
Thank you for the comment tillsontitan. Marrow bones make great treats for dogs.
Shaddie from Washington state on May 28, 2012:
Thanks for raising awareness on this topic. There are many dogs out there who could greatly benefit from a more or completely raw diet. I do use various kibble brands (I never stick to just one) as the basis of my dog's meals, but I feed him appropriate "table scraps" whenever I make myself food, and I use berries, eggs, carrots, and beef heart for his snacks. I think my dog has benefited from this varied diet, he does not look his age at all (seven).
No animal, great or small, should survive solely on a single pelleted diet. Not even rabbits, mice, or fish!
I also completely agree with you when you say that owners should not just keep their dogs on slabs of meat and call it a "raw diet." At a dog kennel I used to work at, there was a German shorthaired pointer that came in to be boarded. He was only 10 years old, yet he was as decrepit as any animal I had seen in my life, barely able to move his albows and knees, or raise his neck above a certain point. His back was hunched, and all of his bones were showing. His owner had left us with his typical "diet," which was a single pork loin for breakfast, and a single steak for dinner. If this was indeed his sole form of nutrition, I can understand why he was in such terrible, frighteningly malnourished shape. It is unethical to assume an animal can survive on just muscle meat..!
Mary Craig from New York on May 26, 2012:
This is a great informational article and your point about today's lifestyle is well taken. A raw diet is definitely better for dogs but time and lack of knowledge hamper our ability to follow a raw diet correctly. My dog's favorite treat is a marrow bone purchased at any meat department.
Voted this hub up, useful and interesting.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 26, 2012:
Sonnys, Liver is very healthy, yes. They also benefit from varied vegetable sources.
sonnys from RI on May 26, 2012:
chicken thighs and liver pretty much covers anything. Bits of my meals are good the nutritional variation.